On the same day the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council announced that sector separation for the red snapper quota would go into effect later this summer, the Coastal Conservation Association filed suit in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to prevent implementation of the controversial management plan.

Reef Fish Amendment 40, which was narrowly approved by the Council last fall, splits the recreational red snapper quota between private fisherman and for-hire charter and head boat operators across the Gulf Coast.

Under the plan, 57.7 percent of the roughly 5.5 million pound quota for the recreational sector would go to private anglers, and 42.3 percent to for-hire operators beginning on June 1. The commercial sector will still receive its full 51 percent share of the overall quota.

David Cresson, executive director for CCA Louisiana, said CCA had no choice but to file the lawsuit, which claims Amendment 40 constitutes agency action that is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, is not in accordance with law and is in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority and limitations.

“When they forced Amendment 40 down out throats, they ignored public opinion, good science, good economic data, the state fisheries managers, the Gulf Coast governors, Congress and their own Red Snapper Advisory Panel,” Cresson said. “Their own panel that is charged with the discussions over red snapper advised against Amendment 40, and they ignored it. 

“It’s amazing that they pushed this thing through and have effectively privatized nearly three-fourths of a public resource.”

Last fall at meetings across the Gulf Coast, Cresson said public opinion was clearly against the idea.

“In Baton Rouge, we had 300 people at the meeting, and three people spoke in favor of sector separation,” Cresson said. “More than 290 were against it.

“Yet when the vote came to pass last fall, all those things were ignored. The Gulf governors wrote a letter rejecting sector separation, Congress has chimed in rejecting sector separation and all the state fisheries managers and top biologists rejected sector separation. But because a handful of folks will profit from this, somehow the vote was allowed to happen and went the way it did.”

Under the plan, which allocates charter captains their own individual quotas in pounds of red snapper, Cresson thinks smaller operators might get lost in the shuffle.

“They have yet to explain with this program how in the world they plan to satisfy all these hundreds and hundreds of charter captains who will be vying for these fish,” he said. “I’m going to tell you the small single-boat operators, like most in Louisiana, are going to get left in the dust.

“ I only know of one or two charter captains in Louisiana that have expressed support for sector separation. The average charter fisherman who is the backbone of the industry here has come out against this, and that was ignored as well.”

The legal battle is just beginning, but Cresson said CCA believes the lawsuit has merit.

“This whole effort has been orchestrated by well-funded environmental groups who have gotten in bed with some of these commercial and charter for-hire business owners, and they have effectively manipulated the system,” he said. “And now it’s our job to make sure they don’t get away with it.”